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  • Xi Ye

Review - Next to Normal

Updated: Jun 27

Wyndham's Theatre

Playing until 21 September 2024




Photo credit: Marc Brenner

Review {AD-PR Gifted}

Diana Goodman (Caissie Levy) suffers from a myriad of mental health conditions following a particularly traumatic event in her youth. However, she is not the only person suffering. Over the course of the show, the audience bear witness to the impact of Diana’s conditions on the whole family as they navigate through Diana’s treatments and her continued descent into extreme depression.

 

The story is exceptionally nuanced and is complemented by a marvellous score and fantastically written lyrics. The script explores the limitations of confining mental health problems into pre-defined boxes and the risks of modern-day medicine. It does not shy away from familial confrontations nor attempt to mask the impact of challenging topics such as addiction and self-harm, fully immersing the audience in the lives of the Goodman family.

 

The cast is absolutely flawless. Caissie Levy and Jamie Parker in the roles of Diana and Diana’s husband, Dan, fantastically portray two characters in pain. They vividly express how they cope with their individual struggles. The two seasoned actors’ performances are intricate, fully demonstrating their own fragility, their strained relationship and a family unit on the brink of collapse, all of these brought to the forefront through “You don’t know” and the exceptionally tender “A light in the dark”. As a result of Diana’s mental health, the couple often overlook their daughter, Natalie’s (Eleanor Worthington-Cox) needs. This leads to her plea for attention through “Superboy and the Invisible Girl”, telling her parents and the audience how she feels in no uncertain terms.

 

Jack Wolfe, who plays Diana and Dan’s son, Gabe, deserves a special mention. His powerful performance of “I’m alive” and “Aftershocks” light up the stage and fills the auditorium with energy, which are easily highlights of the show. Without spoiling the plot, Director Michael Longhurst and Ann Yee, who is responsible for movements, have put significant attention into the positioning and how Jack moves to reflect the nature of this character, giving a more otherworldly feel to this role. Some of the most heart-wrenching moments of the story are directly associated with Gabe's interactions with Diana or Dan, and I am unashamed to admit that many of these brought a tear to my eye.

 

This production at the Wyndham’s Theatre is a near complete replica of the version that played at the Donmar Warehouse in 2023. However, the staging and lighting have been further enhanced, which improves the dynamic movement and highlight the complexity of the characters’ thoughts as reality and imaginations begin to blend. The combination of these makes this production even more of a visual spectacle. This production has seamlessly transitioned from the Donmar into a much larger venue, maintaining the strengths that made the previous run so successful. However, I do feel that this production may be better suited to a smaller venue, which allows the audience to be more immersed in the Goodman family’s dynamics as events unfold.  

 

The set designed by Chloe Lamford is composed of the interior of the Goodman household, split over two floors. Notably, the band is completely visible on the upper floor. When Natalie and Gabe traverse through these musician occupied rooms, the space can feel a little cramped. In fact, when Henry (Jack Ofrecio), Natalie’s classmate and subsequent boyfriend, first enters the stage, a standing mic near the door was knocked over, which was then repositioned by the musician.  

 

This is an exceptional production, a nuanced and truly meaningful exploration into mental health conditions. Importantly, it does not shy away from difficult topics and instead, capitalise on these to fully maximise the audience’s emotional response. I am utterly blown away by the heart-wrenching story and the incredible talents of this fantastic cast.

 

Creatives

Book and lyrics: Brian Yorkey

Music: Tom Kitt

Director: Michael Longhurst

Musical Director: Nick Barstow

Set and Costume Designer: Chloe Lamford

Movement, Choreography and Additional Direction: Ann Yee

Lighting Designer: Lee Curran

Sound Designer: Tony Gayle

Video Designer: Tal Rosner

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